That’s according to Andrew Smith, senior assistant director of governmental relations forVirginia Farm Bureau Federation, who spoke about security concerns for timber owners Dec. 1 at the VFBF Annual Convention. Often, Smith noted, timber is lost not because someone intentionally set out to steal it but because property lines weren’t marked clearly or were marked incorrectly.
A recent study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia found that more than 15 million acres of Virginia land area is forest, and 12.2 million of those acres are privately owned.
Timber is a valuable asset, contributing $17 billion annually to Virginia’s economy. And forestland is a resource that can’t readily be locked up.
The majority of VFBF convention workshop participants said they own timberland, and most of them said they don’t live on that land. Much of it, Smith said, is not even close to where they live or work.
It’s imperative for timber owners to get to know owners and occupants of neighboring properties, said Virginia Deputy State Forester Rob Farrell, who also spoke at the workshop. He suggested that timber owners meet with neighbors and agree on where property lines exist. He also said renting forestland to a reputable hunt club can provide a frequent presence on remote properties.
If timber theft occurs, there are some recourses, Smith and Farrell said. Virginia has a timber theft law that was revised in 2004 to further assist theft victims. Landowners who have their timber intentionally stolen are entitled to up to three times the stumpage value of the trees that were cut, plus reforestation costs and the cost of hiring a consultant. But even if a landowner wins a case, it is his or her responsibility to collect the money, Smith said. He noted that most timber theft cases are tried as civil suits. In a successful civil case, the landowner may be legally entitled to restitution.